Victor Wooten is a phenomenal musician. He plays bass with Béla Fleck and the Flecktones, but he is also an unbelievable solo bassist. If you're unfamiliar with Wooten's music, check him out. He is truly the master of the groove. ("You can't hold no groove if you ain't got no pocket!")
Today I stumbled upon a video of Wooten explaining how he integrates the metronome into his practice routine. After watching it, my attitude toward the metronome changed drastically. Your teachers aren't lying when they tell you that "the metronome is your friend."
The metronome really is powerful tool, especially when it's used as Victor Wooten uses it. In the clip, he outlines a method of practicing with the metronome which has the goal of weaning yourself off of the metronome. As opposed to relying on an external click to provide the groove, this method helps develop your own internal sense of groove. Check it out:
Applying Wooten's Lesson
So, rather than always setting the metronome to one click per beat (4 clicks in one measure of 4/4), Wooten suggests gradually decreasing the number of clicks per measure (e.g. 2 clicks per measure, then just 1 click per measure). This way, you force yourself to rely only on your internal sense of time. The infrequent metronome clicks now act more as reinforcement of the groove. Or, if your groove deviates at all, the clicks help to correct you and get your internal metronome back on track.
After watching the clip, I migrated to the piano and tried it out for myself. I played a left hand bass line to "Georgia On My Mind" to explore the concept. Bass lines work well for this kind of practice, because they are monophonic (single melodic line) and allow for focused attention on just one aspect of music—in this case, the groove.
I started the metronome at 80 BPM (4 clicks per measure) and played a simple bass line through the form several times. Once I was comfortable with that, I reduced the 'nome to 40 BPM (8 clicks per measure). This variation took some time for me to adjust to. At times I rushed, and at times I lagged behind a bit. But once I locked into the groove, I could really tell. And I knew that I was relying more on my internal metronome than the audible clicks of the external metronome.
After this, I tried out his final practice idea from the YouTube clip. The idea here is to divide an interval of time into 5 beats, so your metronome is clicking once every 5 beats. But instead of using this clicking pattern to play in a 5/4 time signature, play over 4/4. When you do this, the click will sound at a different beat of the measure each time. That looks like this:
Before I could even attempt playing over this metronome pattern, I had to spend some time simply counting along: "One, two, three, four, one, two, three, four, one, two, three, four, one, two, three, four, one, two, three, four." Once you have that mastered, try playing over it! It really puts your internal sense of time to the test!
The Metronome Is Your Friend
Wooten is an excellent teacher, and through these metronome practice exercises, he teaches us a couple main points regarding the metronome:
- Practicing with the metronome does not have to be boring/dull/static.
- The metronome isn't there to give you the groove. You supply the groove, and the metronome helps you check it.